Hammering away (UPDATED with new hammer blows)

In the course of my exhaustive research on Mahler 6, which I’m conducting next month, I stumbled upon a nice post on an excellent blog by Gene De Lisa that I hadn’t previously come across.

It’s well worth a read for a good synopsis of the history of the famous hammer blows in the Finale of the 6th, but what I really liked was the video selection of various hammer blows on YouTube, which I’ve copied below for your viewing pleasure, with a few new discoveries added on for good measure. Let us know what your favorite is. I could watch this stuff all day!

The Vienna Phil always have cool looking kit

Loud but cheating

A bit half-hearted:

Someone messing with Haitink. Don’t mess with Haitink.

This one is amusing-



This one is very good, although one sees a bit too much belly

I like how the box goes flying in this one


Nice documentary on the making of a hammer

A little early and not loud enough!

Just the hammer and no band

The Mahler hammer equivalent of conducting in a mirror to a cd

Wrong hammer





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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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8 comments on “Hammering away (UPDATED with new hammer blows)”

  1. Michelle

    You’re right. I could totally watch those all day. I have to say, the GMJO one was my favorite for some reason.

  2. Peter

    Intrigued by the guillotine.

    It raises the question whose head should end up in the basket. I am sure Mahler would have had a few suggestions; a particularly critic, Walter Gropius perhaps?

    Anyone else?

    But you are right. The theatre of the hammer-blow is as much part of it as the sound, so pulling a lever doesn’t work. The bigger the swing the better.

    However, there is always the danger of a slight mistiming which can make a sound more like a door-slamming. That would be Alma in a huff.

  3. Erik K

    Saw this piece performed with the Utah Symphony when in grad school. The percussion instructor at U of U was the guy playing the hammer blows, and his name is Doug Wolf. What did we do with this information? If you guessed that myself and Smock nicknamed him Doug “Hammerblow of Fate” Wolf and made a loud wolf cry every time we said his name, you would be correct.

    BTW, they even had some stage lighting effects for the hammer blows that were somehow both spectacularly effective and unfathomably tacky at the same time.

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Erik

    Not sure about lighting effects during Mahler- Abbado’s DVD of the 9th with GMJO has a fade out at the end, which is sort of effective but cheesy. I’d have to have some heavy metal-style flashpots for the hammer blows if anything…. I have to say, Doug”Hammerblow of Fate” Wolf is one of the cooler names I’ve heard. If you have to have animal noises made as you walk through a room, wolf howls are better than most.

  5. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Peter

    Theatre is the right word- can you imagine the impact on early audiences of a moment like that. It might be the most audacious thing in his music. Where else in music do you get such pure theatricality in an abstract piece?

    I wonder how many hammerschlagers have pasted a photo of someone on the target box? Perhaps the maestro?

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